Egypt unrest toll touches 150

Last Updated: Sunday, January 30, 2011 - 20:27

Cairo: Egypt was in the grip of increasing
lawlessness today as gangs of armed men helped free thousands
of prisoners and looters rampaged malls, banks and jewellery
stores, even as many armymen doffed uniforms to join the
uprising against President Hosni Mubarak`s 30-year rule that
has claimed at least 150 lives in six days.

An embattled Mubarak, 82, visited the military
headquarters and held hectic parleys with top commanders, a
day after he showed first signs of handing over power by
naming intelligence chief and his close confidant Omar
Suleiman as Vice President.

Qatar-based Al-Jazeera channel put the death toll at 150
and said that 4,000 people had been injured since the
unprecedented mass protests against Mubarak`s autocratic
regime began on Tuesday, while some other reports said over
100 had been killed.

For the first time, a large number of judges also joined
the mass protests threatening to destabilise the world`s most
populous Arab State.

Taking advantage of the fluid situation, armed gangs
fired at guards in four prisons, including in Alexandria and
Aswan, and helped thousands of inmates to flee.

An estimated 5,000 inmates broke free from a jail in El
Fayoum, south of Cairo, killing a senior police officer, media
reports said.

Mobs stormed into upmarket malls, bank, jewellery and
electronic stores beside government buildings and looted TV
sets, furniture, electronic items and gold ornaments,
defying curfew in the capital. Looting and arson continued
through the night as security personnel disappeared from the
trouble spots.

In a desperate bid to quell the riots, Mubarak ordered
more troops and armoured vehicles into the streets of Cairo.
A special Air India aircraft is flying over 300 Indians
to Mumbai, Indian Ambassador R Swaminathan said. They will
reach Mumbai tomorrow morning, he said.

The Indian mission is making arrangements for those
wishing to return home.

Pro-democracy advocate Mohamed ElBaradei, who returned to
Egypt from Vienna on Thursday, asked Mubarak to step down,
saying his response to the mass protests was "disappointing".

The Nobel laureate and former chief of the UN nuclear
watchdog, who was put under house arrest soon after joining
the protests, said the nation will collapse if Mubarak stays.

In a telephonic interview to Al-Jazeera, he asked Mubarak
to set a framework for transition of power and said it is the
only way to end the unrest that has rocked Egypt. Thousands of protesters defied curfew for the second
night in Cairo, including in the central Tahrir (Liberation)
Square area.

They also tried to storm the Interior Ministry office in
central Cairo and torched a police station in the Giza
neighborhood of the city.

Some looters managed to get into Cairo`s museum of
antiquities and damaged some of the exhibits. Thieves also
broke into the Arab International Bank and several cafes and
eateries.

To protect their property from looters, residents of
the city set up committees armed with guns, clubs and knives.

As Mubarak refused to quit, influential Arab cleric
Yusuf al-Qaradawi accused him of having turned "blind, deaf
and dumb" and asked him to step down,
"President Mubarak ... I advise you to depart from
Egypt ... There is no other solution to this problem but for
Mubarak to go," Qaradawi said.

The widely respected Sunni Muslim cleric asked Mubarak
to quit for the good of the country, as his ouster was the
only solution to Egypt`s crisis.

Meanwhile, the official MENA news agency said that
Al-Jazeera, the pan-Arabic satellite channel, has been banned
in Egypt now. However, the channel was still reporting on the
events from Egypt when the announcement was made.

Egypt`s outgoing information minister Anas al-Fikki has
"ordered the closure of all activities by Al Jazeera in the
Arab republic of Egypt, and the annulment of its licences, as
well as withdrawing the press cards to all its employees as of
(today)," MENA said.

The unrest in Egypt also affected stock markets across
the Middle East, which kept on tumbling.

Cairo stock exchange remained closed today -- despite
Sunday being a full trading day in the Middle East -- because
of the turmoil in the city.

In Washington, US President Barack Obama held key talks
with his national security team to assess the situation in
Egypt. He called for restraint in Egypt and favoured "concrete
steps" aimed at advancing political reforms in the Arab State.

"He reiterated our focus on opposing violence and calling
for restraint; supporting universal rights; and supporting
concrete steps that advance political reform within Egypt,"
the White House said in a statement after the meeting.

The US President was updated on the current situation
in Egypt during the meeting with his national security aides
that lasted for about an hour.

Earlier, UN chief Ban Ki-moon, who was in Davos for World
Economic Forum, warned Egypt`s government that "freedom of
expression should be fully respected" while dealing with the
protests.

PTI



First Published: Sunday, January 30, 2011 - 20:27

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